It is World Mental Health Day 2018, the theme this year being young people and mental health in a changing world. Here’s what I have learnt from my children, but also counsel I would offer to my younger self.
Looking back, I wish I had known more about how to look after my own mental health when I was a teenager – a time when problems often begin to manifest though in my case, serious depression only emerged properly in my early thirties.
My top three tips are:
1. Enjoy the journey
We can all be in danger of overly focusing on the destination. Having attended a competitive school, I’ve had to take the time to understand that life is not a box-ticking exercise. Try enjoying your life now – not when you finish school, graduate, move out of home or get a new job. Quite often we find another milestone to look towards for happiness. The trick is to find the positives in day to day life now, in any shape you can.
2. It’s not all about academia
I like the idea, expressed by the thirteenth-century Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi, that there are two kinds of intelligence: one based on learning facts and figures, and another we’re born with – ‘A freshness in the centre of the chest’. We tend to put more emphasis on the first kind, but the two are equally valid. Learn more about that ‘freshness’, nurture it and find ways to express it.
3. Quit comparing
Social media is shaping our world in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was a young person. It can be both a blessing and a curse – the choice is ours. We must learn to use Facebook, Twitter and the rest wisely and see them for what they often are: a highlight reel that can leave us with a sense we never measure up, of always being less-than.
But remember: social media, or those we follow, can’t make us feel anything. We decide how we interact and how we feel about those on social media, just as we do in real life. If we imagine we are forced to feel a certain way by our interaction, then we give away all agency in how we respond. We can make choices about that response.